This interview between Bill Traughber and former Vanderbilt head basketball coach Eddie Fogler is exclusive to Commodore History Corner and vucommodores.com.
In December 1967, an ambitious sophomore guard was playing in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium wearing the colors of North Carolina. In this era of freshman ineligibility, Eddie Fogler was playing in his third collegiate varsity game and first on the road. Nearly 22 years later, Fogler would reappear in Memorial Gym as the Commodores head basketball coach.
“I did play in and do remember that game,” Fogler said recently from his South Carolina home. “I know North Carolina got beat. When you walk into Memorial Gym for the first time it just catches your eye because of the configuration. And like most teams when they walk into an arena, they stare around. At Vanderbilt they stare longer than at other away arenas. But what impressed me more than anything was how good Vanderbilt’s team was with the fans interest of basketball at Vanderbilt.”
Coach Dean Smith’s Tar Heels arrived in Nashville during that 1967 match with a No.5 national ranking. The Commodores would surprise the men from Chapel Hill, 89-76. All-American Tom Hagan, Kenny Campbell and Bob Warren each collected 18 points in the Vanderbilt upset while Bo Wyenandt added 16. Fogler was scoreless going 0-for-2 from the field with two rebounds and a pair of fouls.
Fogler, 62, was an All-City guard from Flushing High School in Flushing, N.Y.
“I was a pretty good high school player growing up and did pretty well,” said Fogler. “North Carolina always had a tradition of looking in New York for players from Coach (Frank) McGuire who passed that down to Coach Smith.
“I went to a summer camp in North Carolina before my senior year. I loved it and they felt I might be good enough to help their program. It worked out for me to become a student-athlete at Chapel Hill in 1966-1970. We played freshman ball and my freshman coach was Larry Brown.”
Smith had been the head coach at North Carolina since 1961. Playing as a reserve guard as a sophomore, Fogler’s Tar Heels would lose only three more games after their trip to Nashville. North Carolina was 28-4, ACC Champions, ACC Tournament Champions and reached the Final Four with a championship game against John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.
“We actually got to the championship game and got beat in Los Angeles against UCLA,” Fogler said. “So basically we had to play UCLA with (Kareem Abdul) Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) in LA. They handled us pretty well. Certainly playing college basketball against UCLA at that level, and having a chance to get to the final game and participate in the Final Four was eye opening to say the least. We had a really good team and it was a lot of fun, obviously.”
The Bruins smothered the Tar Heels 78-55. Fogler was 1-of-4 shooting from the floor and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. He recorded four points in the title game. Jabbar was the Final Four MVP scoring 34 points and recorded 16 rebounds.
As a junior, Fogler was a solid starter at guard and the Tar Heels reached the Final Four again as ACC Champions and ACC Tournament champions finishing with a 27-5 record. Earlier in the season Vanderbilt played a return game in Chapel Hill and lost 100-78. Fogler chipped in nine total points in that game. North Carolina lost in a semifinals game to Purdue (92-65) who was led by All-American Rick Mount. Fogler recorded two points.
“I played four years with Charlie Scott who was one of the great players to play in Chapel Hill,” Fogler said. “We had Larry Miller in front of us who was a great player. The real key class that probably doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. It did years ago, but people forget how good Rusty Clark, Dick Grubar, Bill Bunting, Gerald Tuttle and Joe Brown were in the class in front of me.
“They really established the nucleus of a great four-year period in North Carolina basketball history. That year was special. We were a veteran team. We ran into a buzz saw in Purdue with Rick Mount in Louisville, Ky. in the semi-finals.”
The Heels were 18-9 in Fogler’s senior year as he served as co-captain. They lost in the first round to Manhattan (95-90) in the NIT. Fogler averaged about 4.5 points per game in his three varsity seasons.
“That was a disappointing season,” Fogler said about his last year. “We were an NCAA caliber team and basically didn’t play to our level of ability. And we were distracted to some degree that was poor leadership by the seniors. We just weren’t good enough to get to the NCAA and then we got upset in the first round of the NIT to Manhattan who were very good in Madison Square Garden.”
After graduating from North Carolina with a degree in Mathematics, Fogler spent the next year teaching and coaching at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., under prep legend Morgan Wooten. Before this time Fogler entertained the idea of coaching as a career.
“I thought along those lines when I was a college player.” said Fogler. “I was one of those young high school basketball players that went to college on a basketball scholarship and definitely wanted to play in the NBA. But once I got into North Carolina and saw the level of competition, I realized fairly early in my career that I was going to hopefully be a good college player.
“The NBA was something that was not going to be in the cards for me. So I began thinking about the possibility of going into coaching. It worked out for me to be able to do that.”
After one year in Hyattsville, Fogler would return to Chapel Hill as a graduate assistant for two seasons under Smith. He would spend 15 years as a Tar Heel assistant where the university won eight ACC Championships, five ACC Tournament Titles and made the Final Four four times with a national title in 1982 over Georgetown. Coaching for his mentor Smith was an experience of a lifetime for a young college coach.
“That was a special time for me,” Fogler said. “First of all for me as a former player, who had been part of his program for four years, was an honor in itself. And the life lessons along the way that I was exposed to and taught I still use today with my children. Many times I will refer back to some of the things I heard and was taught to do when I was a young student-athlete at North Carolina.
“Those life lessons outside of basketball I think what makes Dean Smith special. The basketball knowledge and the way his teams played and the innovations he brought to the game everybody saw. You can see that on TV or in person and how great a coach in terms of X’s and O’s, and the strategies involved. What people didn’t see or hear is what else goes on in terms of dealing with student-athletes.
“He was probably a substitute parent in many ways. He’s helped student-athletes to grow and become successful later on in life. It is truly amazing and I do see what he has done for so many people after so many years. And he continues to stay in touch with those players even after they have graduated.”
Being part of such a prestigious basketball program at North Carolina, Fogler became an tireless recruiter while spending time in the homes of players like Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Brad Daugherty, J.R. Reid and Sam Perkins.
“I was an assistant on the staff when Michael (Jordan) was a high school student at Laney High School in Wilmington (N.C.). I did have the opportunity to sit in Michael Jordan’s home. He was as senior in high school when the world didn’t basically know who he was.
“Michael was pretty much unknown during the summer before his senior year of high school. He came to the North Carolina summer camp and it was pretty obvious he was outstanding. The more I watched him, the more I was impressed. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that he would be someone who could play at the next level. We knew we had someone special.”
During the period as an assistant coach at North Carolina, Fogler was offered head coaching opportunities at the Naval Academy and Cornell with interest from several Division I schools. Fogler would accept the head coaching position at Wichita State in which the basketball program had a previous history of trouble with the NCAA.
“At that time I was single and loved what I was doing,” Fogler said. “It was hard to leave North Carolina and Chapel Hill. Ultimately it came down to timing. When Coach Smith told me that Wichita State had called and were interested I said, ‘Coach, that is the most penalized institution for basketball in NCAA history at this point. Why would I even consider that?’
“I got married shortly before that. It just hit me that maybe I should look into it. I interviewed for the position in Dallas when North Carolina was in the NCAA Tournament. I had no intentions of taking the job. I told my wife to go shopping, that I was going to the interview. I decided to take it. It was just timing and without actually thinking it through, which is not very smart to say. It worked out to be a great situation for me. I enjoyed my three years at Wichita State very much.”
Fogler became the Shockers coach in 1986 taking a team that had been fifth (14-14) in the Missouri Valley Conference the previous year to a 22-11 record and the MVC Tournament Championship. His effort earned the Coach of the Year honor for the MVC. Wichita State was selected into the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the first round.
Fogler and the Shockers followed that season with a 20-10 mark in 1987-88 to become only the third coach in Wichita State's history to post consecutive 20-win seasons. The Shockers finished in second place for the MVC race and earned another spot in the NCAA Tournament. That marked the first time the Shockers had competed in the NCAA in consecutive seasons.
In his third season, the Shockers were 19-11 and made it to the NIT. During the 1988-89 season, Vanderbilt head coach C.M. Newton announced that he was resigning at the end of the season to become the athletics director at Kentucky. At the time Fogler was considered one of the hot young coaches in the country. Vanderbilt reached out to Fogler and convinced him to move to Nashville.
“I enjoyed my three years at Wichita State,” said Fogler. “It was a great place to live. My daughter was born there and the fans were great. Ultimately, I knew that I was not a Midwest kind of guy. I did not feel that was where I fit the best. I always felt it would be East, South or Southeast since I grew up in New York and spent a lot of time in Chapel Hill.
“I had a great comfort zone with the academic part of Vanderbilt. I was aware of their academic reputation and their great interest for basketball. The timing was right. I was very impressed with Coach (Roy) Kramer (Vanderbilt’s Athletics’ Director). It was just time to go and I’m glad I did.”
Vanderbilt was coming off a 19-14 record with senior captains Barry Booker, Barry Goheen and Frank Kornet. The Commodores lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 81-65 to Notre Dame to end Newton’s remarkable coaching career.
“I knew I was taking over a stable program,” Fogler said. “Of course, Coach Newton had done such a great job there. I knew that I was taking over student-athletes that were committed to be students first. I knew that there was already a good structure in place. Coach Newton did a good job in recruiting. Kevin Anglin and Willie Daunic came in that year as freshmen.
“You’ve got to get good players to win. I always thought personally that recruiting to Vanderbilt most people think it is tougher than most schools. I would disagree and I believe that Kevin Stallings has shown you can recruit to Vanderbilt. It is unique. There are enough good players out there with good academic criteria and also good enough to win in the Southeastern Conference.”
Fogler played and coached in the ACC one of the great conferences in college basketball history. Though he never coached in the SEC before his arrival in Nashville, Fogler knew it was not just a football conference.
“I realized right away how good the SEC was when I saw Shaquille O’Neal warming up in front of our bench,” laughed Fogler. “I thought holy crap, you must be kidding me. The league was just great back then and very good today. Wimp Sanderson had his great programs at Alabama. Hugh Durham (Georgia) had some great teams.
“LSU had Dale Brown. Arkansas comes in with Nolan Richardson and Kentucky had Rick Pitino. And Wade Houston had his son Alan at Tennessee. Vanderbilt is a great place to coach for the right coach and a great place to go as a student for the right student.”
Fogler’s first game as a Commodore was a 65-60 victory at SMU in 1989. Starting for Vandy were Steve Grant, Morgan Wheat, Todd Milholland, Derrick Wilcox and Scott Draud. Eric Reid was injured when the season began. Vanderbilt would finish the season at 21-14 (SEC, 7-11) including five straight victories to end the season with an NIT championship in Madison Square Garden.
“We had lost seven SEC games in a row with a bad stretch, but the gym continued to be packed,” Fogler said. “Then we got on a roll and played great. Even when the team was struggling, I thought the team would get back on track. I was not surprised that we won the NIT because we were playing so well.”
At this time Arkansas and South Carolina had not joined the SEC. It was a ten-team membership that played each team twice during the season. Fogler said he liked it when the conference expanded to 12 teams in 1991-92. He did not like playing each team home and away to fill a schedule. Fogler liked the luxury of scheduling more non-conference games.
Fogler’s next team (1990-91) was 17-13 (SEC, 11-7) and did receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a first round loss to Georgetown (70-60). Charles Mayes was senior captain that season.
“My second year, we were a very good solid team,” Fogler said. “We really got better. The new players picked up the system that I brought and the older players got better at it. I do remember we were an eight or nine seed that year and we had the dubious honor of getting Georgetown in the first round with (Dikembe) Mutombo and (Alonzo) Mourning.
“The chairman of the basketball committee that year was Jim Delany, my ex-roommate at North Carolina. Even to this day I blast Delany and say, ‘thanks a lot Jimbo, about getting us Mutombo and Mourning.’ With five or six minutes to go we were basically tied with Georgetown. They were just too big and too good for us. And if we had won that game, we would have gotten Arizona, the No. 1 seed in the entire country that year.”
In Fogler’s third season the Commodores were 15-15 (SEC, 6-10), and lost to Rhode Island (68-63) in the first round of the NIT. Sitting out that season were transfers Chris Lawson (Indiana) and Billy McCaffrey (Duke) who were gaining a lot of attention in practice sessions. Throughout Fogler’s coaching career he was able to attract top transfers.
“I probably wasn’t a good enough recruiter out of high school,” laughed Fogler about signing transfers. “The North Carolina background that I have certainly was appealing to kids. I know Lawson was interested in Vanderbilt because Indiana played at Vanderbilt when he was at IU. So he had seen Memorial Gym and the interest in basketball from the fans and the state of Indiana was not too far away.
“Billy came to Vanderbilt because of my North Carolina background and a mutual acquaintance thought he’d be interested in Vanderbilt. I have had good luck with transfers. Even at South Carolina I had luck with transfers. A lot of times it’s geographical. Transfers are the right way to go if you get the right ones because they are mature. They understand what it takes and they can’t transfer again so they will work hard for playing time.”
Fogler’s last season at Vanderbilt was magical and historical. The Commodores produced a school record 28 wins (six defeats) and won the SEC Championship with a 14-2 mark. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen with wins over Boise State and Illinois, but lost to Temple, 67-59. This was Vanderbilt’s third and last SEC title.
“That team was a veteran team,” Fogler said. “The team was tough as heck; smart as a whip and could really shoot the ball. They played very unselfishly. So we had great chemistry, toughness, intelligence and shooting. We weren’t very big or overly athletic, but we had everything else it took to be really good. I think the real key to that team was the senior leadership.
“I can remember Kevin Anglin and Bruce Elder both coming to me in my office wanting to talk. They basically came in and said, ‘coach, do you think you can shorten practices some?’ And I said, ‘nope, we got to do what we’ve got to do. Why are you asking? Are you guys tired? What’s up?’
“They thought that if I shortened practices we would be more efficient. I had so much faith and trust in their leadership and I knew how much they wanted to win. As I thought about it during that meeting, and those guys had listened to what I was saying. I did cut practices back, which went against my inclination. This is no joke, but those guys just about coached the team the rest of the year. I didn’t do a whole lot. They took care of everything.”
Lawson was a solid starting center and McCaffrey became an All-American guard (as a senior). Fogler was named the SEC Coach of the Year and consensus National Coach of the Year. This is the only such honor for any Vanderbilt basketball coach. Fogler’s four-year record at Vanderbilt was 81-48.
At some point in a game Fogler would ignite the home fans when an incident would cause him to take off his jacket and fling it away. Such was the time when LSU’s Dale Brown went to the scorer’s table and watched, as a Commodore was about to shoot free throws. So when does Fogler rip off his jacket and toss it in a game?
“Pretty early,” laughed Fogler. “It is interesting that you would say that. I was just never really comfortable wearing a coat. If you watch college basketball today, you will see that coaches will coach without their coat on. I was ahead of my time. Dale and I went nose to nose after that game. He and I had a disagreement.”
Incidents like with Brown are common and Fogler just shrugs it off as part of the game.
“I think coaches periodically have little stuff they do during a game,” said Fogler. “I think during the game whatever goes on between coaches is really little stuff. It’s not very important. It’s typically forgotten. But, everybody is competitive. Everyone wants to make sure they are on equal footing with what’s going on in the game. More than that with coaches’ problems usually occur with recruiting and not actual game situations.”
Fogler was asked about the difficulty of the benches in Memorial Gym under the goals and the difficulty of opposing teams playing in the building.
“I think initially I had problems with the benches,” Fogler said. “After awhile you get used to it. You’ve got to learn to whistle like Kevin (Stallings) does. When his players hear that whistle they turn their heads. And he stomps his foot to where he has worn out his heels. I don’t think there is any doubt that a college basketball game in Memorial Gymnasium is one of the best atmospheres in college basketball in the United States. It is absolutely fabulous.”
Very soon after his fourth season ended, South Carolina made an offer to Fogler to become their new head basketball coach. Rumors were circulating that it was a poor relationship with the school’s administration or a financial situation.
“I would say I loved my four years at Vanderbilt,” said Fogler. “My wife and I had a great time and are still very fond of Vanderbilt and Nashville. We have contact with more friends in Nashville than we do in Chapel Hill. No disrespect to my alma mater, but when you are the head coach at a school it’s different than being an assistant coach. You meet so many more people when you are involved as a head coach.
“The only thing I will honestly say about it and this is hard to believe, but its true. I’m not sure why I left Vanderbilt. I really don’t know. Now that sounds like bull, but why would I give you bull 17 years after the fact? I honestly do not know exactly what happened. Obviously, something went awry. I just decided to go to South Carolina.”
Fogler said that he has never regretted leaving Vanderbilt for South Carolina. He coached the Gamecocks for eight seasons at a state university, which was a different challenge for him. Fogler resides today in a suburb of Columbia, S.C.
Fogler was 123-117 in eight years at South Carolina. His best teams were in 1996-97 24-8 (SEC, 15-1) that included the SEC championship and 23-8 (SEC 11-5) the following year. Fogler’s last three years were 8-21, 15-17 and 15-15. Fogler’s overall head coaching record at Wichita State, Vanderbilt and South Carolina was 265-197.
“Think about how hard it is to win a Southeastern Conference championship,” said Fogler. “It’s extremely difficult to win one. You’ve got to be really good and lucky. When I took the program over it was really down. It was in no way the shape that Coach Newton left for me at Vanderbilt.
“It had problems all over the place from the roster to academics and infrastructure. It was bad. But it was a good challenge. It was fun. Then we got pretty darn good. We rolled again. It is a place where you can be successful, but difficult to be successful every year.”
Fogler resigned from South Carolina after the 2000-01 season with three years left on his contract. Many felt that Fogler was burned out or as rumors had chased him for most of his career that he was going to replace Smith upon his retirement in North Carolina.
“I put 30 years in coaching,” said Fogler. “Fifteen as an assistant at North Carolina, three years as a head coach at Wichita State; four years at Vanderbilt and eight at South Carolina. I don’t think burnout was the word. I was fed up. More fed up and cynical. I had three years left on my contract. I resigned and was not fired. It was my decision.
“I could have stayed in coaching if I’d like. But I got to the point where I was cynical of the recruiting process. I became very cynical of the media. I was just fed up with a lot of what you have to do as a coach on the court. I didn’t have a very good relationship with my athletic director. That was a big part of my decision as well.”
Fogler has been a college basketball analysis for Fox Sports in recent years. His son, Ben, was born in Nashville and was four months old when Fogler moved his family to South Carolina. In November 2010, Ben Fogler signed a National Letter of Intent to play golf for Vanderbilt’s golf coach Tom Shaw. The younger Fogler will be competing in the SEC in the fall of 2011.
Fogler was asked about the most satisfactory and pleasing part of his coaching career as he looks back. His thoughts were the same as when he left South Carolina.
“I would say this,” Fogler said. “I did say and felt like when I resigned from coaching that I was leaving with my dignity, my integrity and my sanity. And I’m proud to say that. I tried very hard to give to the student athletes and the universities that I represented what North Carolina and Coach Smith gave to me. That was very important to me.”
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.